The Holy Father's Plea
On May 30, 2011, Pope Benedict announced
the convening of a special Synod
of Bishops in Rome, beginning Oct. 7,
2012. Bishops from all over the world, including
four from the United States, were
invited to participate in this gathering.
A special Synod indicates there are issues
and concerns of particular urgency on
the Holy Father’s mind, issues and concerns
that require expansive consultation
and expertise, and intensive prayer.
We know from the Holy Father’s
writings and addresses just what is
weighing on his mind and heart.
On Sept. 21, 2010, Pope Benedict
wrote, “Whole countries and nations
where religion and the Christian life
were formerly flourishing… are now
put to a hard test, and in some cases, are
even undergoing a radical transformation,
as a result of a constant spreading of
an indifference to religion, of secularism
Indifference, secularism and atheism,
coupled with what the Holy Father has
called “moral relativism,” constitute pressing
problems for the Church. We see all
around us evidence of an encroaching spiritual
desert, a spreading void, as individuals
and whole groups of people attempt to
live lives without God.
We also know from experience that not
all the problems we face are external to the
In 1990, Blessed Pope John Paul II, in
his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, wrote,
“Of all the painful difficulties the Church
is not confronting are those which are internal
to the people of God: the lack of fervor,
division among Christians, the
de-Christianization of Christian countries,
the counter-witness of Christians, and religious
indifferentism, the belief that one religion
is as good as the other.”
What does Pope Benedict have in mind
as he gathers bishops from all over the
What kind of solutions will emerge as
the bishops attempt to counter the pernicious
forces of atheism, secularism, relativism
The New Evangelization and the New Pentacost
The answer begins in our midst, in our
hearts and homes, and in our parishes and
dioceses.The Holy Father has called for a
New Evangelization for the transmission of
the Christian Faith. It is no accident that
this ambitious initiative serves as the centerpiece
for the Year of Faith, and coincides
with the golden anniversary of the Second
In short, Pope Benedict is calling for a
“New Pentecost,” with the “liberating
grace of the Gospel” to serve as an antidote
for the toxins that disease both Church and
That New Pentecost re-proposes to all
humanity “Jesus Christ as the one Savior,
yesterday, today, and forever.” The Synod
re-proposes the Church as “the
first and necessary instrument
of this work of Christ because
it is united to him as
a body to its head.”
This New Pentecost
begins with you and with me, and with that
“universal call to holiness” spoken about
by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
What is New About the New Evangelization?
The Holy Father first points out the
missionary nature of the Church, and her
need to preach the Gospel to those who
have never heard the name of Jesus Christ.
In short, “the Church exists to evangelize,”
and therefore never ceases to bring the
graces of Christ and the Church to the ends
of the earth (missio ad gentes).
But there is also pressing need for a
New Evangelization, for the sake of:
- those who are baptized but are inadequately
- those who have been evangelized but
are largely uncatechized.
- Catholics who are marginalized or disenfranchised
from the Church.
- Catholics who are baptized, but are
largely indifferent toward their faith.
- those whose faith and public life are
disconnected and stand as counter-witnesses
to the faith.
Four Foundation Planks
As they speak and write about the New
Evangelization, the Synod Fathers will undoubtedly
explore four foundation planks
that are the essential elements for the Year
of Faith. The planks are Encuentro Theology,
Conversion (metanoia), Communio
Theology and Catholic Social Teaching. At
the same time, “The variety of situations
demands careful discernment; to speak of
a new evangelization does not in fact mean
that a single formula should be developed
that could hold the same for all circumstances.”
The first great theme of the New Evangelization,
Encuentro Theology, is described
by Pope John Paul as that
encounter with the Risen Christ that transforms
believers by giving them new life.
Encounters with Christ are both personal
Encuentro Theology bids us to ask hard
- How am I, spiritually, at this moment,
- Have I wholeheartedly embraced my
identity as a baptized member of the Lord’s
- Do I encounter Jesus Christ daily
through prayer and contemplation?
- Am I leading my children and grandchildren
to love and serve the Lord?
- Have I ensured that our participation
at weekend liturgy is a non-negotiable priority?
- Is Jesus truly the Lord of my life?
- Do I turn to him in good times, or only
in bad times?
- Do I listen to his voice in the prayerful
reading and proclamation of his Word?
- Is my faith strong and vibrant, or tentative
In the final analysis, the Church will be
renewed internally, not by a formula or a
program, but by a deep, loving and lifelong
relationship with the person of Jesus
Christ. An encounter with Jesus Christ
The second theme that you will hear
frequently in the days ahead is the theology
of conversion, in Greek, metanoia. The
Church Fathers will tell us that “today,
more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing
to the new life, transformed by
God, and thus showing the path” to Christ.
Metanoia means a radical change of
heart and soul.
Conversion and witness go hand in
Conversion bridges the gap between
faith and daily life.
The Synod Fathers have given special
emphasis to the sacrament of reconciliation
in order to “evangelize the evangelizers.”
In short, they call us to encounter Christ the
Divine Physician, who offers us healing
and mercy before bringing the message of
salvation to the world.
The late Pope Paul VI once wrote,
“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses
than to teachers, and when he does
listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
- Am I a public witness to Christ and the
Church, or am I just one more camouflage
- Do I remain mute as the Church is assailed,
silent as the Church is excoriated,
hidden as the Church and her message of
life are criticized and belittled?
- Do others see evidence in my word
and example that I am a committed disciple,
or do I blend into the scenery of secularism?
- Do I understand and embrace the challenging
words of Philippine Archbishop
Socrates Villegas, who told Synod Fathers,
“The new evangelization calls for a new
humility…the Gospel cannot thrive in
- Am I allowing the Holy Spirit to activate
my gifts and talents in service to the
- Is my faith tepid and tentative, or
courageous and transparent?
- Am I allowing the Lord to heal the
wounds of sin and division in my own
heart, and am I actively reconciling broken
relationships in my family and circle of
- Am I an informed Catholic, able and
willing to articulate the Church’s beliefs,
and able to faithfully re-present her teachings?
On Aug. 24, 2012, Pope Benedict spoke
to a group of Romanian pilgrims. He told
them, “The world needs your courageous
and credible testimony to bring the hope of
the Gospel to all areas of culture and society.”
He told them they were “co-responsible,”
along with the clergy, for actualizing
that mission of hope for the world.
The New Evangelization calls for the
whole Church and each individual Catholic
to become courageous witnesses and
agents of evangelization. The New Evangelization
beckons Catholics to embrace
anew Jesus Christ and the Church’s life and
teachings “in season and out of season,” in
private and in public, in thought and in action.
It speaks of the power and necessity
of both word and action to lead others to
Am I a witness or a counter-witness to
the faith? Am I there at the time when
Christ and the Church need me the most?
Am I a Catholic whose daily life and example
lead others to Christ? Or not?
In the next issue of The Montana
Catholic, I will look at the power of communio
theology, and the vision of Catholic
social teaching as the third and forth essential
elements in the blueprint of the New
Evangelization and the Year of Faith.
Published in The Montana Catholic Online, Volume 28, No. 10, October 19, 2012.